It took a brushing encounter with chemotherapy to open an unexpected new chapter in Janet Ollason’s life.
It was 2003 and the drug treatment was sapping her stamina. Her supportive husband John was encouraging her to take up a new activity which would keep her busy but not tire her out even more.
So she decided to try painting. During her career as a zoologist she had only tackled scientific diagrams, and had no idea that she could become an accomplished watercolourist.
Janet and her husband shared a mutual love of the local scenery in their adopted north-east homeland. They were both originally from England and moved to the Aberdeen area in 1972 to take up academic careers.
Janet who lives at Old Deer, said: ‘We both had cameras, and we loved walking and taking pictures.’
For her, picking up a paint brush felt like an extension of photography: ‘I had taken black and white pictures for years and I think I had developed an eye for form and tone. I’d never been drawn to colour photography but using colour in painting really appealed to me.’
Art kept Janet occupied when she was at a low ebb and battling to get her strength back.
While waiting for a place at art classes she worked her way through a book about drawing. Then she joined classes at Tolquhon Gallery near Tarves, and has never looked back.
Working from her own pictures she creates tranquil pictures of shoreline and countryside, never tiring of the landscape around her.
‘Every day is different,’ she enthuses. ‘The weather, the light and the scenery are always changing.’
To look at her work is to go on a calming journey through the north east from the coast at Cruden Bay and the Ythan Estuary to the Tap O’ Noth and the River Deveron.
‘When I came here I never imagined that just a few miles in any direction there are all these fantastic places.’
These days Janet does not do a sketch or outline before she starts painting but puts brush to paper immediately. Often she paints a miniature of her picture, then moves on to a larger version.
‘They’re not what I would call photorealistic,’ she says. ‘That’s not the point. I’m drawn to calm and serene places. I want to achieve stillness in them and add something of my own.’
Taking up painting was a success, but the chemo which knocked Janet for six forced her to retire from work. As she recovered she was faced with another personal challenge when her husband John, a zoology lecturer, also developed cancer.
He recovered well, but unfortunately 10 years later developed a different form of the illness and passed away in 2014.
Despite the trials life has thrown at her, Janet is a person with a steadfast glass half-full attitude.
‘Cancer forced me to change my life,’ she reflects. ‘But I can see with hindsight it opened up new opportunities.
‘If I hadn’t had cancer I would not have retired. I’d have carried on working and then I might never have discovered my love of painting.’
This feature originally appeared in October 2017.